Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to Support an Author.



Today I feel it's necessary to NOT write about jealousy as a writer.  I do think it's a valuable topic to address, especially because I am myself sometimes victim to the green demon.  But everyone's talking about it today, so I want to talk about something that is getting brushed upon, but not wholly addressed.  How to be a writer's buddy.  Whether you're just a fan, a friend, a family member, or you are also a writer, there are tons of simple everyday things that you can do for the writer in your life.  I've made up a list of things you can do to give a writer support.  Any one of these will do!

1.  Encourage.  If you know anyone who is a writer or wants to be a writer. let them know you support what they are doing.  Yes, it's a tough industry to break into.  It's like wanting to be an actor.  And it's important to be realistic about things, but there's nothing worse than having a dream and someone telling you you'll never make it.  There are TONS of ways to get published, especially with the advent of ebooks, better self publishing, and ezines.  There's a chance your author could get published.  If they don't give up and learn to deal with and utilize criticism to their advantage.  The ability to do this increases when the author has a strong group of supporters cheering for them in the background and peeling them out the poor-pitiful-me-pit-of-self-wallow.

2.  Listen.  Authors live and work in an internal world.  Sometimes that world explodes out into their social life.  Yes, it can be really boring to listen to your best friend go on and on for three hours about their main character's inability to talk to boys.  It might be tempting to zone out or stop talking to your friend cause they've obviously gone over the moon.  Just remember this is important to them.  It's what they are passionate about and it's this kind of passion that makes great people.  When this happens, it can be a cry for support or help OR it can be an invitation into something wonderful.  The author loves their world/their characters/their subject.  They wouldn't have started writing about them otherwise.  They want to share what they love with you and that's a gift you should be intelligent enough to accept with pride and grace.  Getting told about a Work in Progress by an author is like being told a juicy secret, cherish it and ask questions!

3.  Beta Read.  Before you raise your hand to be a beta, know what you are getting yourself into.  You're being asked to read a book.  You're being asked to give advise and your impressions on the book.  You're being asked to be both an editor and a consumer.  You might get asked to this a number of times.   DO NOT volunteer because you feel obligated, do it because you want to.  I can't say how many times I've had people volunteer to beta read a manuscript and then flake out on me.  It feels worse than someone just saying NO from the get go.  Why?  Because I start to wonder WHY they never finished.  Did my writing suck?  Did I not grab their attention?  Do they not like me anymore?  Am I not a good enough friend that they aren't willing to do me the simple favor of reading a friggin' book?  Yes, I'm a little dramatic, but authors can be VERY sensitive when it comes to the preliminary stages of their novel's emergence into the world.  Asking someone to beta read takes humility and guts.  Authors are opening something to you in an effort to see if it's acceptable to the general public.  They are trusting you enough to help make a very important judgement call.  It's an honor to beta read.  And flaking out on people after you dedicate yourself is just bad etiquette as a human.  DON'T make promises you can't keep.  Your writer is going to get enough of that crap from the industry, they don't need it from you too.  Read the darn book.  If it's so terrible you can't finish it without giving yourself a nose bleed, then tell your author in the most constructive way possible.  WHAT about it sucked?  HOW can they improve it?  Try to give some positive feedback too.  Use the build, break, build method when you critique.  "I liked Harry's personality except when he did X.  Oh man, but when he said that thing about the grapes?  I couldn't stop laughing."  Read with a pen and highlighter and a can of Red-Bull; highlight what you like, make comments, stay alert.  What if you loved the book?  You still have work to do.  EVERYTHING can be better.  Highlight sections that you feel yourself skimming or wanting to skip over.  Make comments about what you're feeling and when.  Try not to get too sucked in.  It may be great, but it doesn't help your author improve if you're so engrossed that you don't notice they've misspelled the main character's name in the last half of the manuscript.

4. Celebrate.  If you know an author, you know how important making the smallest advancement can be.  There are generally a number of steps to getting published the old fashioned way, every one of them is long and painful, you can help by pointing out how great it is they've gotten even this far.  You need things in perspective?  Okay.
  • Holy cow, your buddy WROTE A BOOK.  Think about you writing a book and put that into perspective.  It takes an average of 475 hours to write a novel.  That's almost 60 full days of work.  Three months of writing as your full-time job.  How many people do you know who have a book idea or is writing a book?  How many of those people actually FINISHED it?  It's an incredible feat that many people down play.  Buy your bud a friggin' cake, they deserve it.  
  • Jesus H, you got an agent?!  Agents get thousands of queries a week.  They might ask for maybe ten partials out of that and one full out of those.  An agent will accept maybe 1-3 clients a YEAR.  Do you understand those odds?  Your author buddy gets a cake for every partial, a trip to Broadway for a full, and a vacation in Hawaii for getting an agent.  
  • The biggie.  They've got a deal.  This means that after maybe a year of struggling with their agent to further perfect their book, they sold it to a publishing house.  It doesn't matter how much it sold for, what matters is that they sold it and got a good contract...hopefully one with a deal for more books in the future.  At this point, you should be pee-your-pants ecstatic for your friend and maybe offer them your eternal servitude because they've done something that less than .25% of the population has done.
5.  Volunteer.  Allow yourself to get dragged to a SciFiCon so that there's at least someone at your author's first reading.  Go to your author's signings, stand around the table and talk about the book, make excited gesticulations and sound like an anime fan-girl because you want everyone to look over and be like "Wow, what's so exciting?"  When they come over, they'll get caught in your conversation about the book and be more likely to buy it.  Endure reading a particular manuscript 18 times.  Play book-burro and water-peon at a signing.  Know that you are providing a priceless service to the writer in your life and reep your karmic enterprise in the next life.

DESPITE ALL OF THAT, there are still nearly 300,000 books published a year.  Less than 50% of Americans read ONE book a year and the numbers are falling.  In order to be considered a success, a fiction author has to sell 5,000 copies and a non-fiction writer has to sell 7,000.  That means that your author has to draw the attention of 5,000 readers who have hundreds of thousands of other books to choose from.  Face it, your author is a little fish in a big pond full of NYT bestsellers and veterans of the industry who know how to sell.  So, your support can't stop here!

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO!

7.  Spread the word.  With the amount of books coming out of the publishing industry and virtually every other mode of communication there is, publicizing is more valuable than ever.  Even if your author is lucky enough to end up with a big publishing house, the house may not be backing them with the kind of publicizing moola they need.  Lets put it into perspective:  If you know an author you know what a long, hair-pulling, cry-to-your-Momma process getting published can be.  Now think about what would happen if your author's book was published and NO ONE BOUGHT IT.  If a book doesn't sell, a house will stop producing it, will most likely not publish the author again, and the author's agent is not as likely to work with the author on another book.  The publishing industry is small, so when you nose-dive everyone knows about it and you're less likely to get picked up by anyone else either.  So, it's important to make sure that all that hard work pays off.  How is your author's name and book going to get out there?  You're going to help them of course!  Hake the following part of your life-style.
  • If you've read the book, write a kick-@$$ review on the book's Amazon page.  Make up five false identities and do it again.
  • Buy the book.  Give the book to friends and families for birthdays and holidays.  If they like it, they'll help spread the word.
  • If your writer has a blog, help get the ball rolling and make comments on every post.  Make up false identities and conversations with yourself.  Get your friends to join the fun.  Make your author look popular to anyone who might be stopping by to investigate.
  • Fan their Facebook and follow them on Twitter.  Then, make all your other friends do it too.  Retweet and share everything they say about their book.
  • When you're in the bookstore, rearrange the shelves so that their book is facing out.
  • Request that your library carries your author's book, ebook, and audiobook.
  • Ask your author for promotional items such as bookmarks and business cards.  When you are at the bookstore or the library, leave them INSIDE other books that are similar to your author's. 
  • Tell everyone how ABSOLUTELY GREAT the author's book is.  Word of mouth is really powerful in a world where people are inundated with 5,000 advertisements a day.  Tweet about it, facebook about it, text your Nanna.  Do it often and never lose your enthusiasm.  
  • Don't be afraid to post things on public walls and hand out promo items to complete strangers who you see reading similar things.  If those people are reading, then they probably love books and want suggestions for good reads.  Try:  "Hey, you like Twilight?  Have you read X?  It's like ten times better, I couldn't put it down.  I can't wait for the sequel!"
  • If you're a blog/chat-room crawler, try to figure out ways to introduce your friend's book to conversations.
Finally, thank you for being a friend!
Any suggestions?  Please leave them!